Heat and Thirst in Philadelphia: On the Eve of the DNC.

I arrived early for my first assignment as a staff writer for Fetchit360.com, at the illustrious Rittenhouse Hotel, home of the Library Bar. My mission: to have a chat with Jesse Dureka, a bartender at the Library, find out what made him tick, and sample a tasty beverage. Fetchit360 staff had recently done an article on another bartender at the Library, a man named  Papi, raved about his Papi Collins, and even published his proprietary recipe for all to see (thanks Papi!!!).  I rendezvoused with my Fetchit360 compatriots, Ken, the proprietor of Fetchit360, and another staff member.

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The Library Bar staff were gracious enough to open the bar 1 hour early so we would have a chance to talk at length to Jesse.  As I entered into the Library I could see right away how it got its name: rows and rows of classic books on the shelves. We walked in and were warmly greeted by Papi,  Jesse, and other staff members.  Although I was excited to talk to Jesse and find out how he came to work at one of the most prestigious bars in Philadelphia, in the back of my mind I was thinking of that ‘Papi Collins’ and wondering what concoctions he had up his sleeves.

Jesse, a handsome young man in his twenties, with a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, enthusiastically greeted me at the bar. He looked sharp in a bold purple tie, matching purple handkerchief, black shirt and vest. He exuded energy and confidence, and I immediately had a feeling that Jesse was the kind of bartender you could talk to for an hour and reveal things that you would not tell your best friend of 20 years.

As I settled into the most comfortable bar seat I have ever sat in, Jesse told us a little about his background. He has worked as a bartender for 7 years. He attended Penn State at State College where he first started bartending at age 20 at the Penn Stater. He then worked as the manager of an Irish dive bar, Phyrst, known for its ‘car bombs.’ He grew up in PA on a 25 acre horse farm, and moved to Philly one year ago from State College. We asked Jesse to tell us the story of how he got his gig at the illustrious Library Bar, which has a city-wide reputation of being one of the classiest spots in town. Jesse told us that for his 26th birthday last year he treated himself and stayed at the hotel where he met none other than the one and only Papi. They instantly hit it off, talked about their love of making drinks, and realized they had a real kinship and love for alcohol and the service industry. A few bottles of champagne later sealed the deal: Jesse moved to Philly, and the rest is history.  

Previous to his tenure at the Library, Jesse worked at the Grand Cafe in Center City and at the Stephen Starr Fette Sau in Northern Liberties. We asked Jesse to divulge some of his favorites at the Library and he said Rittenhouse Rye was great for sipping, and Four Roses, a single barrel whiskey, were two of his faves. But we learned that his top pick was Green Chartreuse, and his favorite cocktails always had Chartreuse as an ingredient. When pressed to tell us his favorite shot he cracked under questioning and admitted that his “shot of choice” was also Green Chartreuse.  This was all well and good, but in the back of my mind, (well actually the front) I was still thinking about that Papi Collins and wondering if he could top it, and so we asked Jesse if he would be kind enough to stir up his favorite drink. He obliged with his answer to the Papi Collins: The Bijou Cocktail.

 

Bijou Cocktail:

  • 1 oz. Green Chartreuse
  • 1 oz. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. Dolin Vermouth
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 cherry

 

img_3271Jesse, with the grace and swagger of an experienced bartender, poured the drink, as Ken expertly snapped off some glamour shots.  As he stirred the brew, and my mouth watered, I asked Jesse if the green hue was related to the name.  He explained that the cocktail is “supposed to represent the color of the Bijou.”  Hey, New Orleans is one of my favorite cities (second to Philly, of course), so I raised the glass to my lips and was delighted with the flavorful notes of the drink, light and sweet: all the makings of a great sipping summer cocktail.  Not only was my thirst quickly quenched, but after a few sips I was feeling no pain: Green Chartreuse is 110 proof at 55% alcohol. (Yes, more please!) Yet the drink was so light and sweet that it went down the hatch without a protest, unlike many who were in the City of Brotherly Love and making their final plans to march tomorrow.

As I leisurely sipped on my Bijou Cocktail I chatted with Jesse.  He loves gin and summer cocktails, and his pride in his craft certainly shone through the light green coloring of the Bijou Cocktail. Jesse’s charisma was infectious, and I soon found myself disclosing an embarrassing secret that I had never told anyone else: I had never imbibed Chartreuse before. Jesse reassured me and enthusiastically told me that Chartreuse is made by two monks who keep the proprietary formula secret and only pass on the recipe when one of them dies, or something like that. As I said, I was feeling no pain, and was thankful they lived to make this bottle I was enjoying.

img_3276Jesse told me that after managing the Phyrst back in State College, he helped open a new bar  called Local Whiskey. With Jesse’s leadership, a diverse selection of up to 300 whiskey bottles were available; a novel concept in State College, which was known for its legions of beer drinkers.  Due to his innovation, other bars in the area began pushing the boundaries of their establishments, which has resulted in helping to refine the tastes of the thirsty denizens of the town. Jesse said it was at Local Whiskey where he discovered Chartreuse and created the “Yellow Dragon” shot, which consisted of Yellow Chartreuse, which at 80 proof and 40% alcohol is the younger, yet can still hold his own brother, of the Green. He instituted ‘Chartreuse Sundays’ for service industry folk who would come in after their shifts and wet their whistles. Jesse discussed his joy in exposing others to this wonderful beverage and said many fell in love with the Yellow Dragon and made Sundays at Local Whiskey very popular and profitable.

Jesse said that he was first exposed to the service industry at the tender age of around 7 or 8 years old, as his parents would frequently throw lavish parties at their ranch. He enjoyed making food and pouring drinks for their guests, of course with his parents’ supervision.  Jesse said these experiences at an early age were invaluable, and taught him to have a deep responsibility and respect for alcohol. Jesse is the youngest of 3. His father had a construction company and his mother managed the horse farm. He said that his brother also at one point worked in the service industry. It was clear that his family all had roots in the service industry and helping others, and deeply influenced his life choices to come.

At Penn State, Jesse majored in kinesiology and aspired to be a physical therapist, which was inspired due to his love of science; the lucrative nature of the field didn’t hurt either. Although he loved learning about the science of physical therapy, he was dismayed that he would have to earn a doctorate degree before he could work in the field. His plans came to a head when, one night, he realized he really wasn’t truly fulfilled with his future career plans and that his true love was for the service industry. He discussed  in detail one epic night which involved drinking some adult beverages (OK, a lot of adult beverages) on his porch, and staying up all night pondering whether he should continue to do the school thing or follow his passion in the service industry. He said that at sunrise he called his mom, broke down, and told her that his true calling was for the service industry and alcohol.  He decided  right then and there to stop attending school and pursue his love of the service industry full time.

  It was very clear that Jesse’s passion and enthusiasm for alcohol and the service industry was very genuine and real.  Jesse said that he continues to be an avid student of science, and spends a significant amount of time learning about the science of how alcohols are made.  One of his great joys is discussing this science with his customers, and it was quite evident that his passion for alcohol was a healthy one, filled with deep respect.

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Jesse conveyed his love of the service industry, and it was evident that he truly enjoys what he does. He stated that one of the things he enjoys about his job is getting to talk with people from all different walks of life, and educating customers about all of the sophisticated science that goes into making drinks, which they likely are not considering when sipping on a beverage as delicious as the Bijou Cocktail.

Papi, a former 2nd lieutenant in the Colombian Marines, gently informed us that it was time to open the bar, and our visit to the Library had sadly come to an end.  I heard the anticipation in his voice: They were about to have one of the busiest weeks of the year, courtesy of the DNC.  We said goodbye to Papi, Jesse, and the rest of the charming staff at the Library Bar.  As I walked out into the hot summer day I reflected on my visit to the Library. It had met all of my expectations, and then exceeded them. Warm, attentive, and charming staff, a beautiful elegant bar and hotel, and memories of my new favorite beverage: Chartreuse, Green please. As Arnold so eloquently put it, “I’ll be back..”, for a Bijou Cocktail, and maybe even a Papi Collins, which I have still yet to try (call me, I’m local).  My mouth is starting to water again.

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Story by: Chad Margulies

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